Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Washington Post Plug and a National Review Slam

Over the winter break, Antioch University’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program got some free media attention. In a January 1, 2008 news story on the "first in the nation" primary, a Washington Post journalist quoted EAOP instructor Abi Abrash Walton on the political situation here in New Hampshire and went on to report that she “teaches advocacy and organizing at Antioch University in Keene.” It’s subtle, but this kind of earned media attention helps us get the word out about our one-of-a-kind environmental studies program.

Abi and I had to chuckle, however, when we learned that the EAOP was also featured in a December 27 story on the website of the extremely rightwing National Review magazine. In this National Review Online blog article, the author starts out by complaining that Antioch College administrators and alumni are working together to try to keep the College open and functioning—and that they might succeed! The article then falsely claims that during the recent effort to save the College, Antioch also started six other adult campuses across the country operating under the name of Antioch University. In fact, rather than being founded in 2007, Antioch University has been around since the early 1970’s and it has been offering an expanding number of cutting edge master’s and doctoral programs at its five other campuses across the country for nearly four decades. I guess the news is even worse than the poor readers of the National Review knew!

The really big whoppers only started rolling, however, when the National Review piece made the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program the centerpiece of its fiercest criticism of Antioch. The biggest lie they told was their claim that the EAOP “does not require any knowledge of markets” and then adding that, “in fact, knowledge of market processes is actively discouraged” within the EAOP. The only evidence that the author offered for his claim was the opening paragraph on our EAOP website:

Do you want to build a well-organized social movement that can challenge the downsizing of democracy and promote the common good? If so, check out our master’s program in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing where we train students for activist careers as public interest advocates and grassroots organizers working for ecological sustainability, social justice, and the democratic control of corporations.

It would appear that the National Review author believes that any university that runs a graduate program designed for people who want to work in the advocacy and organizing field--at least those in support of participatory democracy, the common good, ecological sustainability, social justice, and corporate accountability--is committed to keeping its students from gaining “any knowledge of markets” and will actively discourage their consideration “of market processes.” This is a huge leap of illogic and, in our case, it is patently false.

The study of both the strengths and weaknesses of markets and market processes--and the debate over how they might best be augmented and influenced by consumers, workers, socially-responsible investors, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and democraticly-run governments--is built right into the heart and soul of several EAOP courses and, I might add, in Antioch New England’s brand new Green MBA program. We believe that these issues of political economy are absolutely vital for people to consider if they want to effectively create more democratic, just, and sustainable communities in the 21st century.

From the National Review’s lens, the EAOP’s real crime seems to be that we refuse to indoctrinate our students into the National Review’s narrow ideological agenda like some business schools do and, instead, our students seek and are given an opportunity to explore and debate several different alternatives to the neoliberal agenda for corporate rule, including ideas by the likes of Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, modern pro-market economists like Herman Daley, and global justice activists like Vandana Shiva.

Now that we've been added to the National Review's rolling list of "nutty professors," I guess we should expect a call from FOX News soon. Perhaps they will want Abi and me to appear on air so Bill O'Reilly can yell at us to "Shut up!"